Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> A Visit to Oregon

Oregon Spring Break Tour 2007
Mt. Hood and the Timberline Lodge

Two years ago Linda and I spent spring break (our slowest week of the year) in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys of California, along with Tom Landshof and his wife Suzanne. This year we decided to visit somewhere none of us had ever visited ... Oregon's Willamette Valley.

Interest in Oregon wines has been growing for years, but the last five years have been explosive. In 2000, Oregon boasted 135 wineries. By 2006, the number had grown to 315 and, if what we saw was any indication, it has not slowed down a bit, and will continue to grow.

Over the next few weeks, I will relate some of our experiences in Oregon. As usual, it will be a bit of a travelogue... we visited a lot of wineries, stayed in some interesting places and saw some beautiful scenery. And while we tried as hard as we could to find a bad meal, we were hopelessly unsuccessful...that is unless you count the last morning at the Portland Airport... and I'm not sure that a botched bagel sandwich counts.

Mt. Hood

Since you never see a picture of Portland, or pretty much anything else in this part of Oregon, without Mt. Hood looming in the background, we decided that it should be our first stop. Besides, being from Indiana, how often do you get to enjoy mountain scenery? And besides, on Monday we planned to spend the day with Lonnie Wright, an Oregon wine growing pioneer, owner of the Pines Winery and grower for Peter Rosback's Sineann wines (next week's story) in nearby Hood River. So we dreamed up a certain loopy logic to spending Sunday night at the famous Timberline Lodge, 6,000 feet up the side of Mt. Hood.

We knew that March weather in Oregon could be pretty dicey, but the one-hour drive from the airport to Mt. Hood occurred in what could only be described as bizarre conditions. We left the airport in sunshine, then encountered some light drizzling rain and wispy fog. And, at about the time that Linda said "Gee, I wonder if we'll see snow," we encountered flurries that obscured everything more than a few hundred feet away. As we climbed upward toward the mountain, we saw the signs reminding us that tire chains or studded tires were recommended…hmmm…did we miss something? We turned off the main road onto the twisting "scenic drive" and the snow began to fall in earnest. It was then that it finally dawned on our lame, Indiana-trained sea level brains that it's still big-time winter at 6,000 feet in Oregon in March.

Wearing only spring jackets and eternally grateful that we had rented a Chevy Tahoe 4x4, we arrived at the Lodge in four inches of fresh snow and were surrounded by throngs of ski booted, heavily bundled folks who we could immediately tell that we weren't from "these parts," and we obviously hadn't realized that we were staying at a major Oregon ski destination. Not only were we surprised, but we were also two thirds of the way up the mountain and we still had not had a glimpse of Mt. Hood. Oh well, we had lunch and unpacked.

Luckily, the Lodge itself was well worth the trip. Built is 1937 as part of the WPA and christened by FDR himself, it was a classic old ski lodge. It even served as backdrop for the movie, The Shining. It is structurally supported by huge hand-hewn wooden beams, filled with beautiful wood carvings and unique hand wrought iron work that adorned every door, window and fireplace. The entire central structure was three stories tall, with giant stone fireplaces and surrounded with windows that were rumored to offer sweeping vistas of "the mountain."

And, to our surprise, when we finally returned to the central core about 4 pm, we discovered that there really was a mountain! We found a sofa in front of a window in the bar, got a couple of glasses of Pinot Gris and sat transfixed by the mountain and the ski activity on it. Linda took this picture from the sofa... for a sense of perspective the tiny specks marching up the mountain on the left side is a ski lift.

And looking out from the other side of the Lodge was just as good....this is view from our room the next morning. This is a shot of Mt. Jefferson and the rest of the Cascades from our window.

And, while there were great views... did you really think we would climb Mt. Hood if there was not a great restaurant involved? The Cascades Restaurant at the Timberline, under chef Leif Benson, is reputed to be one of the finest in the state. And, judging by our dinners, his reputation is intact. The wine list, 25 pages long and named "Best Oregon Wine List" 4 years in a row by the Northwest Wine Press is amazing. We began with glasses of Albin Pinot Gris (wonderful, but not available in Indiana) and chose an old friend for dinner, Peter Rosback's 2004 Sineann Oregon Pinot Noir, very fairly priced at $60 a bottle.

From the Dungeness crab soup to the pan seared duck breast with blackberry honey, to the mustard and hazelnut crusted pacific salmon, the meal was excellent and certainly worthy of recommendation. Starters and salads $8 to $12, entrées $17 to $38. (And breakfast was also great the next morning).

But for us, the real treat came after dinner... Linda and I had noticed the outdoor heated pool behind the hotel in the afternoon and, with flip-flops on and towels in hand, we braved the 30-degree temperature to take the plunge. Watching the sun set behind Mt. Hood and floating in that pool of steam almost made the three-hour jet lag worth it! If you visit, remember, this is an old lodge with gobs of character, but not necessarily luxury accommodations. We were happy that we opted for the King / Fireplace room where we kept a fire burning most the time (and they provided good dry wood). Visualize knotty pine wood paneling, showers that aren't very hot, and a very rustic decor that adds to the ambiance. But the bed was great, with a heavy comforter to ward off the wisps of cold air from the leaky windows.

We would love to return to this hotel in the late spring or early summer when everything is in bloom and you can hike (since I have a Telluride-induced fear of skiing). Here is a photo I found online... trust me, it doesn't look the same with twenty feet of snow piled around it. For more information and photos visit www.timberlinelodge.com.

Next week: On to the Columbia Gorge and Oregon's only Zinfandel vineyards.